Parents support school staff who wore 'border wall' costumes

Parents rallied in support of a suspended principal at a school board meeting held by a district where 14 staffers were placed on administrative leave after donning costumes depicting racial stereotypes and a "border wall."

The Middleton School Board meeting on Monday was the first one since the teachers and staffers at Middleton Heights Elementary School were placed on leave two weeks ago for the inappropriate costumes, worn as part of what officials said was a team-building exercise held after classes were dismissed. Photos that were temporarily posted to the district's Facebook page showed some teachers and aides wearing caricatured outfits depicting Mexican people and others dressed up as a U.S. border wall.

Many of the more than 50 attendees at the meeting were there to ask officials to reinstate Principal Kim Atkinson, the only person who remains on administrative leave. Attendees sat on the floor and in hallways, some signing up to speak and then ceding their time to Brenda Pickrel, the mother of a Middleton high school student.

"The district office brought this mess on our school and our town," Pickrel said. "Where is their responsibility for this? Why is our principal being used as a scapegoat?"

Subsequent speakers told the board they were "outraged" and "appalled" at what they said is censorship of the staff.

"A lot of voices have been silenced, and it's wrong," attendee Jay Arehart said.

The district received complaints from dismayed parents and community members after news of the Halloween incident broke. The next day, Superintendent Josh Middleton apologized on behalf of the district and announced there would be an investigation into the matter, calling the costumes "clearly insensitive and inappropriate."

All of the employees except for the principal began returning to their classrooms last week. At the time the superintendent said in a prepared statement that the district's investigation found nothing but "love and commitment" in the teachers and aides involved.

"Our focus is now one of healing with an opportunity for all of us to grow together as a community," the statement said. "Today we began the re-entry process with training on cultural sensitivity and correspondence with parents, the staff and community."

After the meeting, Middleton said Brian Rothe, assistant principal at Middleton High School, would replace Mark Hopkins as the interim principal at the elementary school until her investigation is resolved.

"With the (employees) who've come back, we've closed the book on (their investigations)," Middleton said.